8-13 year out PhD Alumni Survey

8-13 Year Out PhD Alumni Survey

Results and analysis of the PhD alumni survey

For many years Career Services has conducted its own career plans survey on PhD students as they complete their degree. In 2012 Career Services conducted a survey of University of Pennsylvania PhD alums who received their degree between the years of 1998-2003 and partnered with Campus Labs to develop the instrument and gather the data. The purpose of this survey is to learn about the career paths of doctoral recipients so we can share aggregate information and trends with current doctoral students as well as refine our services and resources to be as helpful to PhD students as possible.

Getting in Contact
Using a variety of data sources, we came up with a database of 2,212 email addresses (some representing multiple addresses for an individual) for people who graduated with a PhD between 1998 and 2003. By tracking the survey links sent out, we know that the survey was received in 1,815 email boxes and of that there were 654 total respondents with 601 completing the survey. The email response rate was 39.59%.

The Findings
As the data are analyzed they will be reported here. We plan to report on career trajectories, salary, career expectations, variety of industries in which alumni are employed, career expectations and satisfaction as well as use of Career Services resources and advice to those currently completing their PhD.

Current doctoral students and postdocs: take advantage of these survey results to explore new careers, get valuable advice from PhD alumni, and make the most of your time at Penn. 

Navigate this Page:

Question 1:
What was your doctoral program at Penn?

Question 2:
In what year did you receive your PhD?

Question 3:
When you entered your PhD program what did you expect you would do when you completed your degree?

Question 4:
What is your current employment status?

Question 5:
In what industry are you employed?

    Question 6:
    Which Career Services resources did you use while at Penn or after graduation?

    Question 7:
    How does data for all respondents compare to that of those who were international students while obtaining their doctoral degree at Penn?

    Question 8: In terms of your career, what was the most beneficial aspect of your PhD training at Penn? What would you do differently knowing what you know now? What advice do you have for current PhD students about their career planning?

    Question 1: What was your doctoral program at Penn?


    Career Services perspective:
    Did you know that some PhD programs that existed 8-13 years ago no longer exist at Penn? We've combined several unique programs into the "Business and Policy" category.



    Question 2: Year of Graduation


    Employment outlook and factors like the state of the economy can change year to year, and these factors can affect the experience of graduate students entering the job market. There are also slight differences in the size of each graduating class. Further analysis of the data set might reveal some interesting trends for certain disciplines or industries each year.

    CS perspective:
    We are happy that we received such a balanced percentage of survey responses from each graduating year. Although the job market and economy may have looked different between 1998-2003, the aggregated data from Penn PhD alumni may reveal some insights into trends or over-arching themes.


    Question 3: When you entered your PhD program what did you expect you would do when you completed your degree?


    While a significant number of students planned to pursue faculty positions after graduation, this number represented just under half of respondents. Many planned to continue on to academic based postdocs, suggesting another subgroup that might have expected to eventually pursue faculty careers. If you are interested in seeing the career advice offered by those survey respondents currently in faculty positions based on their own experiences, then see faculty advice for current Penn students/postdocs.

    Several of those who selected "Other" indicated their plan was to go on to a medical residency program.

    Approximately 24% of respondents indicated they were not pursuing higher education positions, and their career plans included industry, public sector and nonprofit work.

    Interestingly, while the majority had some idea of what they would pursue after their education, 5% had no plan in mind.

    613 respondents


    Question 3.1: Are you doing what you expected?


    Attitudes about the various career fields open to people with PhDs can change over time - this is perfectly normal. You should take advantage of your time and the resources at Penn to explore different career fields of interest. Once you have done the background research on career options, it can be just as helpful to eliminate a career field from your list of possibilities as it is to add one.

    CS perspective:
    Career Services can help you to explore different careers, help provide you with approaches that can connect you with alumni in different industries, or support you as you aim for the career that you have always wanted.

    613 respondents



    Question 4: What is your current employment status?


    The vast majority of respondents were employed full time. Just about 3% were seeking either full or part time employment during when they were surveyed.

    Additionally, it should be noted that this survey was administered in February through May 2012, during a period of high national unemployment. A report from Georgetown on unemployment figures had some interesting data, indicating unemployment rates for those with graduate degrees in 2009-2010 were about 3% on average (see page 16 of pdf)

    For the percentage that selected "Other" - several respondents indicated they were entrepreneurs or self-employed.

    Question allowed for multiple responses ("Check all that apply")
    613 respondents; 624 responses


    Question 5: In what industry are you currently employed?


    The majority of alumni surveyed are currently working in faculty or administrative positions within higher education. There is also some overlap between different industries as self-reported by the survey respondents. Researchers working at universities in biomedical fields may have indicated that they worked either in the "higher education" or "health care/medicine" industry, for example.

    There is a real breadth to the industries and career fields represented by the approximately 39% of respondents who are not currently employed in higher education.

    "Other" - this category included self-reported industries including defense, energy, aerospace and medical device industries among others.

    581 respondents

    Click on the pie chart to see lists of the current positions held by respondents within each industry.


    Question 5.1: What is your current position within Higher Education?


    Did you know?
    The titles for tenure-track positions outside of the USA can be slightly different. For example, in the United Kingdom, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer can represent Assistant Professor and Professor in terms of their academic rank. Since Penn alumni have found academic positions in many different countries, these data reflect the range of international position titles.

    There are 329 respondents who classified themselves as working within the higher education industry.


    Question 5.2: Are you a Tenure-track Faculty Member?


    For those individuals who indicated they were Professors in the above question (Q 5.1 - What is your current position within Higher Education?), we asked whether or not they were in tenure track positions. 92% of those respondents indicated they were currently in tenure track jobs. Current faculty members who responded to this survey also provide advice to current Penn students/postdocs who are interested in pursuing faculty careers. You can find this advice presented here.

    248 respondents




    Over half of the PhD alumni who responded to this survey with backgrounds in humanities are currently in tenure-track positions. With some of the changing trends in academic hiring, the percentage of recent graduates going into tenure-track positions might be very different today.

    The great number of opportunities for humanities PhDs outside of academia is another factor that will affect the total number of current grads ending up in tenured positions at universities.


    Question 5.3: What is the gender breakdown of faculty members across broad disciplines?


    Survey respondents did not have to answer the question about gender. Based on the answers from respondents that did we find a fairly even split between men and women working as tenure-track or tenured professors when subject area and discipline are combined.


    Question 5.4: Where are Penn alumni working as faculty located?



      Question 5.5: In what kinds of institutions are Penn alumni working as faculty?


      Question 6: Which Career Services resources did you use?

      40% of PhD alumni in tenure-track or tenured positions who answered this survey stated that they used some of the resources provided by Career Services, as did many survey respondents working in other industries. We are always updating the resources we have, and how we present information about career paths and opportunities, but you can get a sense of which resources that alumni found most helpful when looking for faculty and non-faculty positions by looking below. The larger the segment of each pyramid, the greater the number of survey respondents who said they used the resource.

      CS perspective:
      Click on the pyramids below and you can also start making use of some of these resources today.



      Question 7: How do data for all respondents compare to International students obtaining their doctoral degree at Penn?


      Question 7.1: What was the location for the first position post-graduation for domestic and international PhD alumni?


      Question 7.2: What is the current employment status of domestic and international Penn PhD alumni who responded to the survey?


      Question 7.3: Within faculty roles, does the percentage of Penn PhD alumni on the tenure-track differ by domestic or international status?


      Question 7.4: Outside of higher eductation, what industries do domestic and international Penn PhD alumni work in?


      Question 8: In terms of your career, what was the most beneficial aspect of your PhD training at Penn, what would you do differently knowing what you know now, and what advice do you have for current PhD students about their career planning?

      8.1: Advice about faculty careers in academia from Penn PhD alumni


      8.2: Advice about careers in healthcare, biotech, and pharma from Penn PhD alumni